We need Robin Hood today, says movie director

Folk hero: The first literary reference to Robin Hood comes in Piers Plowman, written around 1377.

Is Robin Hood relevant to the modern world? The famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest has returned to our screens once more, reinvented for the 21st century, but the film has been poorly received.

Arrows zip like bullets through the air. The oppressed masses labour in huge, fiery mines. This new Robin Hood film, which came out last week, is very far away from Sherwood Forest.

The opening scenes of the film, set amid battles in the Middle East, deliberately mirror real footage from modern conflicts. Here, the greedy Sheriff of Nottingham has become a conniving politician, while merry man Will Scarlet is a workers’ rights activist.

Director Otto Bathurst wanted his film about the legendary outlaw to “resonate with a modern audience”.

The figures suggest he has not succeeded. In its opening five days, Robin Hood made only £17.7 million across the globe, set against its budget of over £128 million. So far, this marks the worst box office performance of the year.

Have we finally lost our appetite for Robin of Loxley?

He has been a ubiquitous face in cinema history for almost 100 years, played by Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and a friendly fox in Disney’s animation.

But the legend of the man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor goes back much further.

There is no clear evidence for a real Robin Hood, although debate continues amongst historians. A number of minor criminals may have used the name in the 12th and 13th centuries, helping to grow the legend. These stories blurred with those belonging to other famous outlaws like Fulk FitzWarin and Eustace the Monk.

During the reign of Henry II, outlaws were hated by the public as violent criminals. However, by the time of King John’s reign, when Robin Hood was said to have lived, outlaws were celebrated for rebelling against John’s perceived injustice and tyranny.

While other features of the mythology, like Hood’s friendship with Friar Tuck and romance with Maid Marian, were grafted on over the centuries, the Robin Hood story has always been rooted in standing up to corruption.

“In every moment of historical time […] there are corrupt businessmen and political leaders abusing their powers,” says Bathurst. “Whether it’s the 12th century or the 21st century, we need Robin Hood.”

Is he right?

The merry men

Now more than ever, say some. In the 21st century, the gap between the rich and the poor is bigger than ever and growing fast, while huge companies like Facebook and Google have immense power without any democratic checks. The spirit of Robin Hood is in serious need of revival.

Don’t be ridiculous, respond others. It’s simplistic to think that the complex problems faced by our society could be solved by a Robin Hood-figure taking money from the rich. Besides, the new film’s disastrous box office performance shows the story has been overdone and no longer appeals in the modern world.

You Decide

  1. Is the story of Robin Hood relevant to the modern world? Why/why not?
  2. Why do some stories and legends, like Robin Hood, survive over centuries?

Activities

  1. Choose a cinema version of Robin Hood from the past 100 years. Research how the film reimagined the original Robin Hood myth. Was it historically accurate? Did it conform to the classic myth? Did it have any lessons for today’s audience?
  2. Class debate: “This house believes the 21st century needs Robin Hood.”

Some People Say...

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

Aristotle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A new, big-budget Robin Hood film was released last week, directed by Otto Bathurst and starring Taron Egerton. It was poorly reviewed by critics and performed badly at the box office. It is one in a long line of adaptations of the legend of Robin Hood, a folk outlaw and hero who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
What do we not know?
Whether Robin Hood was ever a real person. There are a few records from the 12th and 13th centuries of outlaws with similar names, so it may have caught on as a common name for those fleeing the law. Most of the stories about Robin Hood emerged in the 15th century, along with features like his romance with Maid Marian, which may have come from a combination of different stories.

Word Watch

Sherwood Forest
A forest near Nottingham where Robin Hood was said to hide from the authorities with his companions.
Modern conflicts
The film draws parallels between the Crusades, when Christians fought Muslims for control of the Holy Land, with recent wars waged by the West in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Conniving
Immoral.
Ubiquitous
Appearing everywhere, common.
Fulk FitzWarin
A lord and rebel against King John who was declared an outlaw. He is the subject of a medieval legend called Fouke le Fitz Waryn.
Tyranny
Rebellious barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, which restricted his power. It is considered one of the most important documents in the development of the English Parliament and constitutional monarchy. John has been frequently portrayed as power-hungry and weak in modern Robin Hood adaptations, although he did not feature in the original medieval stories.
Corruption
When those in power behave dishonestly, for example, by taking bribes.